SPECIAL FEATURE The Big Rewards of ‘Small’ Book Awards

SCBWI writer Ally Sherrick, author of Black Powder takes a closer look at the plethora of small awards celebrating children’s books.

When I started writing for children back in 2009, I had no idea of the number of book awards there were out there recognising and celebrating the work of children’s authors and illustrators.

But when I was approached to write this article, I did a quick google and was bamboozled by the results. This list from the School of Education at Brighton University is as good a summary of the main ones as any. But it’s not exhaustive by any means. And for every one of the ‘BIG ONES’ – the CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Medals, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Costa Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Awards to name but a few – there are a host of other smaller, regional and local awards.

I know this from experience, as, in addition to winning a national award (the Historical Fiction Young Quills Award 2017), my debut middle grade historical adventure, Black Powder was fortunate enough to win a smaller, regional award in its category – the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award  – and be shortlisted for several others.

The big awards have either the endorsement of well-respected national institutions or the big bucks of sponsorship behind them – and this will inevitably bring benefits in terms of both author profile and sales. But the smaller awards are usually organised by increasingly cash-strapped council library services, teachers and school librarians, sometimes on a voluntary basis and rarely with significant budgets behind them. So what’s their value when compared to the bigger hitters?

Based on my own experience and talking with fellow shortlisted authors, I’d say you can’t put a price on it. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. They help build the reading buzz with children and parents too.

If you are lucky enough to have had the chance to stand up in front of an auditorium of hundreds of children who’ve taken the trouble to read your book and vote on it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. As Laurel Remington, fellow Chicken House author of The Secret Cooking Club (winner of the Waverton Good Read Award, and shortlisted for the James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award, Sefton Super Reads, and Shrewsbury Big Book Award) says:
In my experience, the children voting for these awards have an outstanding level of engagement and pride in the process. These awards give children a voice, and teach them that their opinion matters.

Ally and Laurel Remington enjoying a cuppa at the 2017 Sefton Super Reads awards event (credit: Steve Smith)

2. They help widen teachers’ and librarians’ knowledge of the current children’s book market.

This allows them to pass on their passion and enthusiasm for new titles and voices to the young people in their charge. For more on this see this article on the Federation of Children’s Book Groups website by teacher and co-founder of The North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards, Sue Wilsher.

Sample competition entries from the East Sussex Children’s Book Awards (credit: Ally Sherrick)

3. They celebrate and shout about the work of school and public library service staff.

Which in these days of closures and chronic under-investment in library services across the country can only be a good thing. Or as fellow SCBWI member and author of picture book, The New LiBEARian (Maverick), Alison Donald says about her shortlisting for the 2017 Sheffield Book Awards:
In a time when libraries are closing, it was uplifting to see a crew of passionate librarians giving so much back to the community of Sheffield. I felt proud and very lucky to be part of such a fun event that was aimed at promoting literacy for children.

4. And last, but by no means least, it’s great for us authors too.

Though the book sales arising from such awards are unlikely to be substantial, being longlisted or shortlisted for an award is a validation of all those hours of hard work at the coal-face and a great opportunity to meet audiences – young and old – and network with fellow authors as well.

Besides being nominated for three of the big national awards – including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize – fellow SCBWI and middle-grade author, Peter Bunzl’s best-selling debut, Cogheart (Usborne), was nominated for twelve regional book awards, winning both the Dudley Teen Book Award and the Sefton Super Reads. What Peter really valued was the chance to meet all the enthusiastic readers out there, plus
the most amazing, inspirational SLS librarians, who run each award and are dedicated to getting your book into the hands of as many students and teachers as possible. For those reasons alone, the regional awards are brilliant!

I’ll drink to that!

Header pic shows Peter Bunzl, Stewart Foster, Ally Sherrick and Jane Elson 
at the 2017 Dudley Teen Book Awards final

Ally Sherrick has been a member of SCBWI since 2010 and a volunteer co-cordinator of the SCBWI Author Masterclasses since 2014. Her debut, Black Powder, a middle grade historical adventure about a boy who gets caught up in the Gunpowder Plot, won the 2017 Historical Association’s Young Quills Award and the 2017 North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award (‘Moving on’ category) and was shortlisted/longlisted for eight others. Her second novel with Chicken House, The Buried Crown, is published on 5 April.
Website: www.allysherrick.com
Twitter: @ally_sherrick
Facebook: Ally Sherrick

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